Editor’s Note: The main figure of this story wished to remain anonymous so their name has been changed.
Ally sits on the tattooing chair while the tattoo artist cleans and shaves the area of the arm the artist had wet and rubbed with alcohol. Finally, the stencil is placed on her inner arm. She peels it off, leaving an uncolored version of a lilac branch.
Ally says the tattoo represents her home, the house where she grew up, and a lilac tree that lives in her backyard. Her experiences in the house were traumatic, but they are still a part of who she is today.
Ally carries her trauma with her. It has impacted her relationships, but is also one of the reasons she is a strong and resilient person.
“Honestly, I blocked out a lot of the stuff from when I was little,” she says. ”I feel like what I do remember isn’t the worst of it at all.”
Ally remembers one traumatic moment when her older brother was ten and they still slept in the same room. “He didn’t make his bed right, so my dad came up to our room,” she says. “My brother was standing up, and he (her dad) smacked him so hard that he lifted up off the ground and then flew onto the bed. His face was red for like two days.”
“I understand that people spank their kids,” she says. “he grew up in an abusive household, so he didn’t understand the line, and instead of spanking us he had this stick that he would beat us with– I don’t know… all over.”
A couple of years back her mother told her that she and her brother would try and escape her abusive father. “My brother and I would cry and run into the woods when my dad got home,” she says, “and [my mother] would have to chase after us because we didn’t want to spend time with him.”
Due to the absence of a father figure, Ally experiences some attachment issues. “I feel like every person when I was little that was supposed to love me and that kind of stuff, just kind of didn’t,” she says. “I’m always searching… Literally, any person that is significantly older than me and is nice to me I latch onto.”
“My TA, for instance, I barely ever talked to him, but I considered him a father figure,” she says, “just cause he would ask me things like how I was doing and stuff.”
Ally is far from the only U-32 student who has had a traumatic childhood. Gaige Williams also grew up in a household with a lot of aggression. “I was raised by my mother who was an alcoholic,” he says, “so I used to get a lot of stuff thrown at me; I used to get beat a lot.”
Cairsten Keese, a guidance counselor at U-32 talks about the training teachers had to take to understand how to handle a student with trauma. The faculty relies on an anxiety scale. The scale goes from one to ten with one being no anxiety and ten being so anxious you cannot function. One example is if someone came to school late because of traffic or they overslept. They might be a little stressed and might be on a 3-4 scale, but if someone has significant trauma and was triggered recently they might come into school at an 8 or 9.
“If someone is coming into school already triggered or anxious, they’re going to be more likely to climb that scale.” says Keese.
Ally and Gaige both said that they are in much better places now. “With the tattoo at least, like yeah it’s my house,” she says, “it’s like you have to appreciate where you come from because it makes you who you are today”